Dieting in a Breastfeeding-Friendly World

This post is part of the weekly breastfeeding blog hop, hosted by The Slacker Mom, and co-hosted by The Gnome’s Mom and Happiness Redefined. This week’s topic is “Dieting while Breastfeeding” Please visit The Slacker Mom to see the linky list and read everyone’s entries, as WordPress.com can’t show it here.

One aspect of a Breastfeeding-Friendly World, as I imagine, is that it is a place where every nursing mother feels happy eating a healthy, balanced diet, free of societal pressure to “regain her figure” in record time. It is a world in which we trust a woman’s body to transform in amazing ways into pregnancy and then beyond into breastfeeding, giving it time and space to make incredible changes naturally. It is a world that supports mothers to care for their little ones and themselves without worrying unnecessarily about their own body image.

However, in the United States, we live in the polar opposite world. We live in a world selling fantasies about the human body, at great cost to our physical and mental health. The media and the American public is obsessed with celebrities who lose their baby weight and slip into bikinis in record time, filling new mother’s heads with the idea that getting their pre-pregnancy body back is of the utmost importance, which pushes some to diet dangerously and even put their ability to breastfeed at risk. This culture’s warped, over-sexualized view of a woman’s body idealizes her pre-pregnancy state. It even demonizes a woman who uses her breasts for nature’s primary purpose: to feed her baby.

If you read my last Blog Hop post, you know that I was told on the fourth day of my first son’s life that he was failing to thrive because he wouldn’t latch on to breastfeed. One lactation consultant later, I was committed to doing whatever it took to feed my baby and help him thrive. My luxuriant nursling left me with hours upon hours of time with my feet up to read. I read breastfeeding books.

All those books had two main ideas that related to dieting while breastfeeding:

1)   Breastfeeding will melt your pregnancy pounds away.

2)   Eat healthy while breastfeeding (and remember those extra calories—you need the same or more as at the end of your pregnancy!).

My pregnancy pounds must have been stored at 33 degrees Fahrenheit, because they were so sloooooooooow to melt away. Among the many things that shocked me in the early days of parenthood was the strange body I inhabited during those post-partum months. Three babies later, that has not completely changed. As tickled as I am to be with my newborn babe and soak up his sweetness, I feel somewhat out-of-sorts in my post-partum body. It’s not just what I see in the mirror or on the scale (which I generally avoid) that bothers me – it’s how I feel.

But I am not and have never been a dieter. Truth be told, I am blessed with a relatively high metabolism. I get to enjoy meals, though I don’t like the feeling of being overfull, so I stop when I need to and generally burn off what I consume.

More importantly, I am jaded by the insidious onslaught of unhealthy messages the media force-feeds us regarding women’s bodies. So, I have put my faith in the female body’s ability to recover and rebuild its strength following childbirth. And I’ve learned that if I follow this advice, it all turns out okay:

  • Eat really good food (ie. healthy and balanced) whenever you are hungry, but not to overfull. Know your cravings and don’t stock the fridge with no-nos. I went several weeks without ice cream in the house to help me turn to healthier treats.
  • Try not to look in the mirror or watch the scale. Focus on baby instead. Just as he won’t be walking within his first few weeks, it’s rare that a woman’s body naturally regains its pre-pregnancy size and form within those early weeks of life with a newborn.
  • Know that “nine months up, nine months down” (it takes nine months to gain all that pregnancy weight and nine months to lose it) may not be true for you. I’m more of a 2-year girl. If you did not have much body fat on you pre-pregnancy your body may need to retain enough to successfully breastfeed. Just keep eating well and, if nothing else, enjoy as many walks with baby as you can. If you had abdominal muscle separation, as I did, be aware that it may take longer for the muscles to come back together before you can regain abdominal strength and your ability to exercise more strenuously.
  • Figure out whatever exercise works for you and enjoy it whenever you can. In the meantime, know that your biceps will strengthen from all those hours of carrying baby, and maybe – just maybe – those mighty mama muscles account for some of your pounds.
  • Sleep more. Go to bed early at night with baby so you get in all the hours of sleep your body needs. Ten or twelve hours from lights out to getting up may add up to eight hours of sleep after meeting baby’s nighttime needs, leaving you well-rested. On the other hand, sleep-deprivation can seriously affect your body’s ability to lose weight. It disrupts your metabolism, throws off the hormones that regulate your appetite, can affect your emotional health, decrease motivation to exercise, and much more. The advice to tuck in at 8:00 pm whenever I could was the best advice I got when I had my second child. The difference in my days well-rested versus not was worth the hours of me-time lost from going to bed early.

For those who want specific diets to try while breastfeeding, check out this advice on safe ways to diet while breastfeeding.

What are your thoughts on and favorite resources for breastfeeding-friendly dieting?

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